It’s not just Mexico’s forests that need protecting for butterfly migration
Their route from Canada is threatened by overuse of herbicides and climate change, among other factors
Mexico, the United States and Canada must share responsibility for the conservation of the monarch butterfly, according to a biologist who warns that the insect’s North American migratory path is at risk of becoming a thing of the past.
Víctor Sánchez-Cordero, a researcher at the National Autonomous University’s Institute of Biology and Mexico’s lead representative on a tri-national scientific committee that studies the monarch, said that the butterflies’ route from southeastern Canada to the fir tree forests of Michoacán and México state is under threat.
He blames the excessive use of herbicides, changes in the way land is used, climate change and a reduction in the availability of nectar and pollen.
“The commitment to conserve this migratory phenomenon not only focuses on Mexico; it’s a shared responsibility between our country, Canada and the United States,” Sánchez-Cordero said.
The researcher, who along with his team developed a system to monitor the migration of the monarch, said that there is a misconception that the most important – almost exclusive – factor in ensuring the continuation of the phenomenon is the conservation of forests in the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve (RBMM), located about 100 kilometers northwest of Mexico City.
That idea “has placed great international pressure on Mexico,” Sánchez-Cordero said before adding that he and his team published an article in the journal Frontiers in Environmental Science that shows that the decline in the number of monarch butterflies migrating to Mexico is not due to deforestation in the RBMM.
Deforestation has been drastically reduced in the past 10 years but butterfly numbers have continued to decline, he said.
“The dramatic reduction in the density of monarch butterflies that arrive at overwintering sites in Mexico doesn’t correlate with the loss of forest coverage, which shows that this factor is not responsible for the population reduction. … Other hypotheses to explain the decrease must be sought,” Sánchez-Cordero said.
One possible cause for the decline, he explained, is that the excessive use of herbicides is killing milkweed, a plant that is a main food source for monarch butterflies and on which females lay their eggs. Less nectar and pollen in the United States and Canada as a result of deforestation is another possible cause, Sánchez-Cordero said.
He added that large numbers of migrating butterflies have perished in Texas and the northeast of Mexico due to drought linked to climate change.
To conserve the migratory phenomenon of the monarch – butterflies fly some 4,500 kilometers to reach Mexican forests from Canada over the course of three to four generations – a network of conservation areas along their migration routes needs to be developed, Sánchez-Cordero said. He also said that the routes followed by the butterflies should be declared protected areas.
In March I had the tremendous joy of interviewing Ellen Sharp and Joel Moreno Rojas, founders of the nonprofit organization “The Butterflies and Their People Project.” We filmed the interview from the rooftop of their hotel, JM Butterfly B&B, which is located at the base of Cerro Pelon Monarch Butterfly Reserve in Macheros, Mexico. Cerro Pelon is the old volcanic mountain where the Monarchs wintering home was first located by Mexican citizen scientist Catalina Aguado Trail, on January 2, 1975. Trail was at the time working under the direction of zoologist Doctor Fred Urquhart of the University of Toronto.
Joel and Ellen are simply an amazing dynamic duo. They have built a beautiful and welcoming bed and breakfast at Cerro Pelon, the most pristine and least trafficked of Monarch sanctuaries. Largely through the conservation efforts of The Butterflies and Their People Project they have helped provide economic opportunities that have in turn dramatically reduced illegal logging and deforestation of the core protected areas of the forest.
The mission of The Butterflies and Their People Project is to “preserve the butterfly sanctuary by creating jobs for local people in forest and monarch butterfly conservation. The Butterflies & Their People Project is an Asociación Civil (non-profit organization) registered and located in the village of Macheros in the State of Mexico.”
I hope you’ll watch and will be equally as enamored of Joel and Ellen as were we. You’ll learn more about how The Butterflies and Their People Project came to be, the importance of protecting the existing Monarch Butterfly forest sanctuaries, and how jobs and economic growth go hand and hand with protecting the vitally important temperate forests of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve. And a bit about how this extraordinary couple met and began their journey in Monarch conservation.
To learn more about The Butterflies and Their People Project visit their website.
To donate to The Butterflies and Their People Go Fund Me fundraiser click here.
Thank you so much dear butterfly friends for sharing Beauty on the Wing trailer. As I am writing this post, the new trailer just hit 600 views. That is quite wonderful as it has only been three days since we first shared the trailer and because unlike YouTube where if you watch only a few moments of a video it counts as a hit, with Vimeo, you have to watch it all the way through to be counted. By sharing the trailer and generating many views, you are truly helping when festival judges are viewing our submission.
So thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing!!!
You are receiving this note because you donated generously or because you have been a friend and supporter in one manner or another to my documentary Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly.
I am beyond excited to share that we will be picking up the masters this week from the color and sound editing studio, Modulus, which I have been working with these many months. The film has come together beautifully. I think you will love the soundtrack by Jesse Cook and the new mix and voiceover recording. Because of several delays over the course of editing, I was able to include footage from the butterfly’s spectacular late winter exodus at Cerro Pelon, Mexico, and from the exquisite Monarch migration that took place along the shores of Cape Ann this past fall.
Currently I am submitting Beauty on the Wing to film festivals. Over the weekend I sent in no less than 18 submissions. Some festivals we’ll hear back from within a few weeks, others it may take several months. In the meantime, I am learning about film distribution and am working on scheduling a sneak peek preview screening for all my donors and will keep you posted about that.
Here is a link to the new short trailer. Beauty on the Wing Trailer
I hope you will have two minutes to view and also, if you could, please share. The old trailer has thousands of views and believe it or not, number of views is important to festival organizers and film distributors So please share. Also, I am creating a longer, more detailed trailer and will send that along later this week.
A most heartfelt thank you for your generosity and your kind support. I am so grateful.
P.S. See below very rough draft of a poster because I needed one quickly for the festival applications- I am looking for a graphic designer who can help with some ideas I have for posters, postcards, and other promotional materials. Please let me know if you have someone you love to work with. Thank you!
HERE’S TO A HAPPY NEW YEAR AND A HAPPY NEW DECADE!
In spending the afternoon reflecting on the past year’s wildlife stories and photos, I have been thinking about what an extraordinary place is Cape Ann. How fortunate we all are to see amazing and beautiful wildlife stories unfolding in our own backyards each and every day! I am planning a Cape Ann Wildlife 2019 Year in Pictures and hope to find the time to post that this week.
News this year of an increase in Monarchs at the butterfly’s overwintering sites in Mexico, as well as strong numbers during the summer breeding season and fall migration, gives me great hope for the future of this beautiful species, and for all wildlife that we take underwing.
Our community has taken under its wings a pair of Piping Plovers. The two began calling Good Harbor Beach home in 2016. Because the community came together and worked as a team, this year we were able to fledge three tiny, adorable marshmallow-sized fluff balls at Gloucester’s most well-loved and populous beach. Thank you Piping Plover friends and Community for all that you did to help these most vulnerable of shorebirds successfully reach flying age.
Another definition of “underwing” – three nearly full grown PiPl chicks, all determined to nestle for warmth under Papa
Ribbons of orange butterflies are stopping to roost overnight all along the Gulf Coast of Florida’s Panhandle. These Monarchs are primarily members of the Atlantic Coast population. Because these Monarchs live for about seven to eight months, they are often referred to as a super generation of Monarchs, and are also known as the Methuselah Monarchs. They will continue along the Gulf Coast, soon joining the steady stream of Monarchs migrating through the central part of the US to cross the great Central Mexican Plateau (Altiplanicie Mexicana).
The Plateau is bordered by the Sierra Madre Occidental to the west and the Sierra Madre Oriental to the East. The Plateau ends where the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Mountains begin, forming a natural barrier, which prohibits further migration. The butterflies roost in the beautiful pine-oak forests of the Eje Volcanico Transversal.
The Monarchs are arriving to Mexico in ever increasing numbers. Colonies have yet to form, but that is not unusual for this time of year. Below are reports from Mexico from two of the butterfly sanctuaries where I filmed “Beauty on the Wing.” Ellen Sharp, along with her husband Joel Moreno Rojas, founded the nonprofit organization Butterflies and Their People, located at Cerro Pelón, Macheros. Estela Romero is Journey North’s program coordinator for Mexico and writes from her home in Angangueo, Michoacán.
From Macheros, MEX:
Ellen submitted this report: “From 1:08–1:24 pm on October 31, 2019 we spotted at least 54 determined little specks pumping their way across the sky. Meanwhile up on the Carditos side of, the Butterflies & Their People guardians sighted many more. Starting at 12:16 pm, Leonel and Francisco counted an average of eight per minute for the next ten minutes. Ever since that day, the skies have been filled with monarchs flying overhead until the afternoon rains arrive. We have yet to hear any news of colony formation on Cerro Pelon.” (10/31/2019)
Gravesite Macheros, Mexico
From Angangueo, MEX
Here They Come!
Estela Romero writes:
Our dear friends,
Regardless of bad weather with rain, fog and dark clouds covering the sky for almost three weeks, Monarchs found no obstacle and poured down from the sky to attend to their ancestral encounter with incredible accuracy on the October 31st and November 1st.
“There they come”, “down to the bottom to town those go”, “up they just lifted flight”, “over there many more”, students, Emilio, Fernanda, Kevin and Diana, shouted. The monarchs were migrating through the valley. Monarchs do their triumphal entrance and last flying performance before they make their choice and split to their final destination at the unique Oyamel tree spots in the Sierra Madre mountains of “El Rosario” and “Sierra Chincua”, in Central México, two of the three main Sanctuaries at the region.
Monitoring map kept by students shows how the numbers of monarchs suddenly rose to hundreds!
Our legendary Mathusalen Generation of Monarchs, the Daughters of the Sun, have been, since ancestral times, the symbol of the after-life world of our ancestors and recently dead close relatives — the Miktlan dimension. Our indigenous groups show deep understanding of the relationship between life and death. Monarchs are the connection of this mystic relationship between life and death.
“At last their souls appear shaped as orange and black beautiful energetic butterflies coming to all of us families, after longing for their arrival all year long; our memories will always prevail upon their absence; they will always be among us; not invoking their lives and our time together would be really letting them die and forgotten, no, never”, murmur parents and grandpas as they hod their children and grandchildren by their hands in the streets of the town.
“We all gather around our Ofrendas at home and even in public open sites. Each ofrenda may have from 2 levels, which represent heaven and earth, up to 7 or even 9 levels, each one a different dimension that the soul of our dead ones (the Tonali) will go through before reaching the Miktlan dimension”, explained elementary school teacher, Margarita. The Ofrenda is a collection of objects placed on a ritual display during the annual and traditionally Mexican Día de Muertos celebration.
“Each Ofrenda shall contain all favorite meals, drinks, objects, garments, and tools or utensils symbolizing our ancestor’s lives, preferences, enjoyment and ordinary living”, Víctor, Pamela and Juan explained as they gave their finishing touches to their beautiful Ofrenda.
“The colorful papel picado is exclusively sold at this time of the year for the decoration of our Ofrendas; the Zempatzúchitl flower’s (Marygold) fragance shall guide the spirits of our ancestors to reach home; candle lights meaning light, hope and faith, shall also help them come home and then go back to their Miktlan world; our moms and grandma’s assisted by the rest of the family shall cook our dead ones’ favorite dishes in advance for this day; salt and water are main components of an Ofrenda, meaning relieve to thirst and hunger to the visiting spirits; all kinds of drinks, fruit and our delicious “Pan de Muerto“ shall be included too. Tortillas, tamales, atole, tequila, mezcal andcerveza are indispensable in any Ofrenda; finally, at the very top, the photo or photos of our dead relative(s) to whom honor the Ofrenda has been set”,explained Ceciia, a middle school student, wearing her beautiful Catrina costume.
The Alebrijes also symbolize the Day of the Dead. The Alebrijes are bright, colorful, fantasy cardboard cutouts of creatures which are mixtures two or more animal body. The Alebrijes is part of our Mexican culture which has hit the international screen in films like Coco. The Alebrije’s role is to guide the spirits of our dead ones to earth and back to the Miktlan underworld once their two-day visit is over.
“Our ancestors spirits shall share with us a big, big fest while we sing their favorite songs, play their favorite music, tell unforgettable anecdotes and memories and fill our homes with colour, flavors and joy to know that they shall be always among us and never gone from home and from our families”, teacher, Nacho, explained as he described the Ofrenda to the dead miners in town. Nacho is featured in the photo and shows how our town, Angangueo, was historically a mining town with mining the main employment for most families many decades ago.
Walo, a teacher who dressed up as Catrín, and Catrina Magali showed two different Ofrendas to our Monarch butterflies, souls of our dead ones, as the main symbol of these unique festivities in our region and all over our country as the ever living spirits of our dead ones.
As the festivals and the celebratory meals are over and our cemetery is dressed up to greet the monarchs as our ancestors, lets turn down our voices and let us be still and silent as we wait to see at least one single Mathusalen Monarch arrive; let us all children and families from our three host countries, Canada, United States and México stand hand-in-hand while sharing our wonderful responsibility and our ancestral, unbreakable link among our three nations, while watching great-great-grandchildren Monarch pouring down as if from the heavens to our majestic mountains where they will see the exact Oyamel tree where their great-great-grand parents overwintered the season before — and without having been to México before this week!
Angangueo, Michoacán, México
Monarch colony Cerro Pelon, March 2019
Monarchs, Painted Ladies, American Ladies, and Yellow Sulphurs are still migrating through Cape Ann–Massachusetts, New England, the mid-Atlantic states, and all along the East Coast for that matter. There isn’t much in the way of nectar plants available at this time of year. If you have anything at all blooming in your garden, even a Dandelion, it will help butterflies and bees on the wing.
This newly emerged Painted Lady was scrounging around at all the dandelions in and around Eastern Point. You can see why if the deadly herbicide Roundup had been applied to this lawn, there would be nothing for the butterflies.
The above Monarch butterfly was drinking nectar from what appeared to be a dried out stalk of Seaside Goldenrod. Although it may seem of no use to you and I, the Monarch was probing deeply into the florets and finding sustenance.
If you have to tidy up your garden, wait until after Thanksgiving, and go cautiously. Bees burrow into dried flower stalks, songbirds find nutrition in the seed heads, and the caterpillars of many species of butterflies, such as those of the Great Spangled Fritillary, winter over in leaf litter at the base of plants.
It is not beneficial to pollinators to invite them to your garden, and then decimate the over wintering species with zealous tidying-up. Take a break, be lazy for the sake of the pollinators 🙂
Another banner weekend for butterflies on Cape Ann with Yellow Sulphurs, Painted Ladies, and American Ladies joining the streams of Monarchs migrating along our shores.
Butterflies struggle at this time of year to find sources of nectar. Whatever you do, please do not cut back your garden until mid-November or so. Best NOT to cut back at all and to leave the drying seed heads for the songbirds and leaf litter and plant stalks for hibernating bees and caterpillars, but if one really must cut back, wait as long as possible.
If you click on the photos in the gallery, each picture is labeled with the name of the butterfly and the names of the late-blooming plants on which they are drinking nectar and building their fat reserves for the journey ahead . Butterflies will even fight over a Dandelion to try to get nectar when nothing much else is available (the best reason of all not to use Roundup on the Dandelions in a lawn).
You may have noticed that the late summer of 2019 has so far been a banner year for migrating Monarchs, as well as other species of butterflies. Not only are reports of good numbers of butterflies being shared all around Boston’s North Shore, but numbers are high across states east of the Rocky Mountains and the southern Canadian provinces. Let’s keep our hopes up that these current high counts will translate to strong numbers at the Monarch’s overwintering sites in Mexico.
I am very often asked, “what is that small Monarch?” Actually, it’s not a small Monarch but a butterfly of an entirely different species, the Painted Lady Butterfly (Vanessa cardui). Every year we see Painted Ladies migrating at the seam time of year as do the Monarchs. Additionally, we are currently in the midst of a Painted Lady irruption. An irruption is a word used to describe a burst in the population numbers of a species.
Mourning Cloak, underside of wings
Here is a butterfly I don’t always see during the late summer migration, a Mourning Cloak. The generation that emerges at the end of the summer spends the winter not as a chrysalis or a caterpillar, but as an adult. They hibernate in the cracks and crevices of trees and buildings.
Mourning Cloaks are one of the first butterflies on the wing in earliest of spring and are a true harbinger of warmer days to come.
Mourning Cloak, upper, or dorsal side of wings showing
In the British Isles, the name for the Mourning Cloak is Camberwell Beauty. I much prefer that name, don’t you 🙂
Monarchs were on the move over the weekend, not only on Cape Ann, but all over northern and northeastern regions of the country* very solid numbers of migrating Monarchs are being shared, from Ontario, to upstate New York, Michigan, and Maine.
Lets keep our hopes up for good weather for the Monarchs on the next leg of their journey southward!
*Ninety percent of the Monarch Butterfly migration takes place east of the Rocky Mountains.
If you would like to help support the Monarchs, think about creating a milkweed patch in your garden. The best and most highly productive milkweed for Monarch caterpillars is Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), the milkweed we see growing in our local marshes and dunes. The seed heads are ripe for plucking when they have split open and you can see the brown seeds and beautiful floss.
For several of my readers who have expressed difficulty in germinating milkweed seeds, the following is a foolproof method from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.
MILKWEEDS (ASCLEPIAS SPP.) ARE NOTORIOUSLY DIFFICULT TO GERMINATE. But don’t despair. The Wildflower Center has developed and tested a protocol that results in good germination rates for a number of our native milkweed species. Follow this process and you’ll soon be on your way to supporting monarchs, bumblebees and tons of other insects that depend on milkweed plants. READ the complete article here.
Autumn migration is full underway and wildlife is on the move through Cape Ann. With gorgeous weather, blue skies and a sprightly breeze, Sunday was a spectacular day for observing dozens of species on the wing — A juvenile Red-tailed Hawk and Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Little Blue Herons, Cormorants symbiotically feeding with the herons, thousands of Tree Swallows, Mockingbirds chasing Red-tailed Hawk, Painted Ladies, Yellow Sulphurs, Buckeyes, and beautiful, beautiful freshly emerged Monarchs.
Lots of photo bombing on Sunday–a Great Blue Heron appeared unexpectedly from the marsh edge, flying over a flock of Snowy Egrets.
Later in the day, a second Great Blue Heron flew over a flock of Starlings that were trying to keep one step ahead of the Red-tailed Hawk.
A juvenile Yellow-crowned Night Heron flew on the scene for a brief moment.
Tree Swallows are continuing to mass and migrate along our shores.
Several friends have shared this stunning photo from http://www.sciencephotography.com. To the naked eye, a Monarch Butterfly egg is the size of a pinhead.
Come join us Wednesday morning from 10am to 11am at the Sawyer Free Library where I will be sharing Monarch fun with young people. We have art activities, as well as eggs, caterpillars, chrysalides, and possibly a butterfly or two emerging on the day of the program. I hope you can join us!
2019 has been an amazing year for Monarchs. We got off to a very early and fantastic start, but then with a wave of cool rainy weather the Monarch movement slowed considerably. Despite the slow down, we’ve had at least two subsequent waves come through for a total of three broods this summer. Hopefully this will translate to a great 2019 migration followed by strong numbers at the Monarch butterfly’s winter sanctuaries at Michoacán and the state of Mexico.
The eggs we see now on milkweed plants are the super generation of Monarchs that will travel to Mexico.
The photos show the Monarch caterpillar becoming a chrysalis. When ready to pupate, the caterpillar finds a safe place and spins a silky mat. He inserts his last pair of legs into the silky mat and hangs upside down in a J-shape for about a day. Biological developments that began when the caterpillar first emerged are in high gear now. The caterpillar’s suit, or exoskeleton, splits along the center line of the thorax and shrivels as the developing green chrysalis is revealed. The last photo in the gallery shows the moment when the old skin is tossed off.
HORRAY FOR THIS BANNER SUMMER OF MONARCHS!!!! I hope it translates to a great migration this fall 🙂
I went to my garden to gather a sprig of milkweed to feed a single caterpillar. I checked the leaves for eggs and didn’t see any. A few days later I had dozens of teeny weeny caterpillars munching away on the sprig. The Mama Monarch laid her eggs all around the milkweed buds and it’s nearly impossible to see eggs on buds.
Keep your eyes peeled for eggs on the leaves, and also on the flower buds of your milkweed plants, especially Marsh Milkweed.
Monarch waking up in the Joe-pye wildflower.
There are several butterflies that people often mistake for Monarchs. Among them are two members of the Vanessa genus and they are Painted Ladies and Red Admirals.
Monarchs are on the wing at the dunes at Good Harbor Beach, attracted to the Common Milkweed growing abundantly throughout. For the past several months, we have had an influx of Red Admirals. They aren’t seen in the dunes as much as are the Monarchs; you’ll find them right on the sand at the beach. They are drinking moisture found in the sand, especially at the wrack line, seeking minerals and salt. Red Admirals are commonly referred to as the ‘Friendly Red Admiral’ because they alight on people’s skin, drinking salty human perspiration.
When wings are folded Red Admirals are beautifully disguised against beach and bark textures; when their wings are open they flash bright red-orange bands across their upper and lower wings, which sometimes leads people to believe they are a ‘small’ Monarch.
My friend Eric Hutchins sent along this snapshot of his wonderfully lush patch of Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca). He thought I would like to see how beautifully his milkweed has grown from seeds distributed at our milkweed sale several years ago. Thanks so much to Eric, love, love seeing this!
There has been more interest than anticipated in Monarch eggs. Thank you to everyone for writing!
At present, Jane has over 100 caterpillars in her kitchen terrariums. These will become butterflies within the month, and each female that emerges will lay between 300 to 700 eggs. I’ve compiled a list of everyone who left a comment. We are thrilled and grateful readers are so interested in helping raise Monarchs this summer. I will contact all as soon as Jane has a new batch of freshly laid Monarch eggs.
In the meantime, I am going to type up some FAQs. I also suggest using a glass rectangular fish tank/terrarium, with a fitted screen top, for rearing the caterpillars. If you don’t have one, they are available at our local pet stores. Also, a package of cheese cloth. Along with a plentiful supply of milkweed, that’s all you will need.
Thank you again and we’ll be in touch. ❤
A friend with a lovely garden just loaded with milkweed would like help this summer raising Monarchs. She is located in the Annisquam area. Last year Jane had so many eggs and caterpillars, she had a real time of it trying to take care of all. This year promises to be as good as, if not better than, last year.
If you would like Monarch eggs and information on how to take care of the eggs and caterpillars, please comment in the comment section, and we will provide you with Monarch babies!
A very brief update to let all our Friends know that work is progressing on my documentary Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly. The new footage from this year’s magnificent migration in Mexico has been added. My amazing team, Eric and Kristen, are plugging in the newly recorded voice over.
For the next several weeks, I’ll be planting my client’s pollinator gardens and getting them underway for the summer. After mid-June, we’ll be back in the editing studio with Eric and Kristen finessing the color correction and audio, with plans for a mid-summer release.
Happy Butterfly Days!
Tree top view – standing at the top of the mountain looking down into the valley below. All the orange bits and flakes in the trees are Monarchs.
So many Monarchs this early in the season portends a possibly great summer for butterflies in our meadows and gardens. Monarchs have already arrived to the Great Lakes region. This is the perfect time of year to plant Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) seeds and many of our local nurseries carry Marsh Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) plants. These two species are the most productive for Monarch eggs and caterpillars in our region.